18 sept 2004
by Maria Rubinstein
I forgot. I didn't mean to, but I forgot.
It's only been about three weeks and I
And I'm not the only one. Oh, not that
that's an excuse, but it's still crazy how time rushes by us, bringing this
or that story to our attention briefly,
before moving on to a new story.
But this particular story I thought I
wouldn't forget. I wanted, hard as it was, to remember, remember all the body
bags that, for a few days anyway, showed
up on the news. I wanted to remember so
I made myself look at the bags. I made
myself notice that some of them were open
so I could see the children inside, curled
up like they're still in their mothers'
wombs. I made myself look because I wanted
to remember how that day was my kid's first
day at school, too, and how I planned to
slow down on that morning, set the alarm
clock early so we could have a leisurely
breakfast and a slow stroll up the four
blocks to school. But time was rushing
by. So instead of the leisurely breakfast,
Fred ate a granola bar on the way. Instead
of the slow stroll, I found myself saying, "Okay,
we need to hurry up or we'll be late."
I want to remember because, after Beslan,
I want that walk to school to be different.
I want that because I imagine—no, I know— that
on that first day of school in Beslan,
another mother said the same thing, trying
to prompt her child on the walk to school.
Perhaps, like me, she was feeling a little
anxious about her child's first day in
first grade. Perhaps, like me, she wasn't
seeing her child so much as her looming
deadlines and counting the minutes she
had to get her child to the classroom and
then get to where she needed to be next.
And it's that mother I think of now, as
I walk up to school with my own child. Because I wonder what is she thinking,
what is she feeling, if she's one of the "lucky" ones
who's still alive? Does she go back to
that walk, over and over and over, yearning
for those last few steps in the fine September
air? Does she long with every breath to
erase the impatience which she knows has
crept (once again) into her voice? Does
she wish, with every heart beat, more than
she's ever wished for anything in her life,
that she had slowed down, had looked at
the leaves changing color, had admired
the ingenuity of the ants, had stopped
to pick up a few sticks? Because then,
then maybe her biggest worry at the time—that
her child would be late for school—may
instead have turned out to be her greatest
Because if she and her child were late,
her child might still be alive.
So often, as parents, time is an adversary.
It's just ahead of us, reminding us that we're late for school,
for the orthodontist, for bedtime. Or it's
streaming past us as we make lunches late
at night to save time in the morning, or
catch up on those phone calls that we didn't
have time for during the day. Or, perhaps
worst of all, it's behind us, and there's
nothing we can do to change just that one
second when we said something we wish we
hadn't, or did something we would like
to un-do. Time, despite the Rolling Stones
song, is not on our side. But I want time
on my side, to be my friend, or at least
So, walking my own bright-haired child
up to school, I want to remember the time
is now to stop to see the leaves turn golden
on the trees, notice the ants working together
to carry small bits of bread, even help
look for sticks. I want to remember to
do this every day.
But I've forgotten.
Just this morning, when my son was dawdling,
trying to see just how long it takes to
pour the last few drops of juice down the
kitchen drain, I forgot. I looked at the
kitchen clock, ticking away relentlessly
above the refrigerator as I hurried to
make Fred's lunch, and I said, "Oh,
Fred, hurry up. We're late. We don't have
time for that." That's not what I
want to remember. What I want to remember,
with every breath, with every heart beat,
is that time is all we have.
Maria Rubinstein is a writer and
single parent. She and her son, Fred,
Minneapolis, where they are watching the
leaves change color as they walk to and